Thief on the Cross

By Ron Graham

“And he said unto Jesus, Lord, remember me when thou comest into thy kingdom. And Jesus said unto him, Verily I say unto thee, To day shalt thou be with me in paradise.” Luke 23:42, 43.  As Jesus hung on the cross, dying for the sin of the world, two criminals hung on either side of Him. Condemned for their crimes, they too would die that day. But one of them ultimately recognized who Jesus was. It was that criminal who called Him “Lord”. The Greek word for Lord Is “Kyrios” which is a title given to God, the Messiah. And with his own mouth, one of these thieves professed that Jesus is God.

In the above verse the word for kingdom comes from the Greek word “basileia It is primarily an abstract noun, denoting sovereignty, royal power, dominion, and it is used especially of the Kingdom of God and of Christ. The thief addressed Jesus by using the word basileia which pointed to Jesus’ right or authority to rule over a kingdom. It refers to the royal power of Jesus as the triumphant Messiah.

 So this thief through one little statement spoken from the most terrible place possible – hanging on his cross – was given permission by God Himself to enter paradise that very day with the King of Kings. Most Bible scholars agree that, for the most part, criminals who earned the “privilege” of dying that horrible death, by crucifixion, were suspended there for days before finally dying. Jesus told that believing thief that that very day he would be with the Lord in paradise. How could Jesus have known that He and this thief would die that very day? Jesus is fully God, and as such He knows all things. He knew He would die that very day because He arranged all the events associated with His crucifixion. He also knew that one of the men hanging next to Him would believe and be saved that day, and that this man would also die in a matter of hours.

 “And Jesus said unto him, Verily I say unto thee, To day shalt thou be with me in paradise.” Luke 23:43. Some believe that Jesus was speaking figuratively; not actually meaning the thief would be with Him that very day but that he would be joining Jesus in Heaven at some point in time. Those who believe in soul sleep interpret the “to day” that Jesus spoke of as being in this period of time, the Christian era.

The Greek rendering of the phrase “to day” means just that. The Greek word is “sēmeron”, and it means this very day, or what has happened today. The Greek word for “I say” is legō, which in this instance is rendered as a command. Clearly Jesus pronounced a command that the thief would be with Him that very day in Paradise. We know from the scriptures that Jesus, before His resurrection, went to where the believers of the past were waiting and “... led captivity captive...” Ephesians 4:8.  He removed everyone who was in Paradise, and took them to Heaven. This puts the kibosh on soul sleep; there are other verses that also point to the whole idea of soul sleep as being unbiblical. Such as, 2 Corinthians 5:6-8; Philippians 1:23, but I digress.

As Jesus hung on that cross He was mocked and reviled by the crowd gathered at the cross, as well as the two criminals who were being crucified with Him. “The thieves also, which were crucified with him, cast the same in his teeth.” Matthew 27:44. But something changed the mind of one of those thieves, and in his heart he became a believer. It’s amazing just how quickly that change took place. “But the other answering rebuked him, saying, Dost not thou fear God, seeing thou art in the same condemnation? And we indeed justly; for we receive the due reward of our deeds: but this man hath done nothing amiss.” Luke 23:40-41. That thief knew he and his companion deserved the punishment they were receiving. Interestingly, one criminal confessed with his mouth and believed in his heart that Jesus was Lord, which is exactly what Paul tells us in the Book of Romans how one is saved. For with the heart man believeth unto righteousness; and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation.” Romans 10:10.

The man’s partial statement “Lord, remember me” was a profession of faith and it was the catalyst that moved him from being condemned to being saved. Yet it still remains that this saved sinner was being punished for the crime he committed against society. Two men, found equally guilty by the ruler in that land, were separated that day by the cross of Christ, separated by the One who was found guiltless yet condemned by that very same Roman ruler. Today they remain eternally separated by a simple faith which leads to the cross and a lack of faith that moves people to reject their Messiah.

Clearly we can see this once lost and condemned man becoming transformed before our very eyes by going through a change of heart and a transformation of his mind right there on that cross. This same change can happen to anyone today. We see many who have hardened their hearts against God and His Christ these days and we think to ourselves “How can these lost people who seem to be so far removed from God ever come to an understanding of who God is? How can they ever come to a saving relationship with Jesus Christ? Wouldn’t we be wasting our time trying to confront them with the truth of the Gospel?” Have you ever heard that old adage, “There but for the grace of God go I”? It’s only hopeless when that lost person dies in unbelief.

Two men, nailed to their own personal cross both suffering in pain and agony right along with Jesus. In this moment in time their eternity was in the balance since both would soon expire and be transported to the destination of their choice. There they were hanging and dying right next to the very Creator of the universe. Yet only one would recognize Jesus and confess before the world just who Jesus was. If these two criminals were Jews then they had just been put to death without being able to atone for their sin against God through the usual means, the Jewish Law of sacrifice. That opportunity was lost forever. One saw the Hope we all have in Christ and the other remained in his blindness.   

Two very similar criminals made completely opposite choices, those two men had completely different mind sets. Both men had the same opportunity to avoid Hell that day. One ultimately made the correct choice. That’s a fact that should provide ample reason for believers today to pause and reconsider their drive to spread the Gospel. Those two men were hanging awaiting deaths door to slam shut, one became a believer before it was too late. We, as followers of Jesus Christ, need to spread the Gospel message to the lost as much as possible before it’s too late.

Everyone alive today is sitting at deaths door. Our lives could be snuffed out in a simple heart beat. Since man can’t see the future he can’t see his last moment on earth before it appears. There comes a point in time when all the good intentions for spreading the Gospel fall short if the believer lacks commitment.

Most people today believe they have plenty of time to make a decision for Christ, never really coming to the understanding that delaying that decision for Christ automatically condemns them to Hell. If they die in that lost state of mind they are condemned for eternity. The message of the cross is powerful and can and will bear much fruit if it is spread by Jesus’ followers as He commanded.

Remember Jesus’ words in the parable of the sower? The last ground mentioned by Jesus was good ground. “But other fell into good ground, and brought forth fruit, some an hundredfold, some sixtyfold, some thirtyfold” Matthew 13:8. We all like to think that we are the good ground spoken of by Jesus in this parable, but are we living up to what Jesus meant by bearing much fruit even thirtyfold?

I know, by some of the emails I’ve received in the past that there are believers out there who refuse to witness to the lost, erroneously assuming there’s nothing further to be accomplished. Their attitude in many cases is that the hearts of the rest of humanity are left hard and cold, and are completely unreachable for Christ. Obviously there are some who believe the Holy Spirit has been removed from planet earth. After all it’s the Holy Spirit who convicts a person and leads them to Jesus. If God’s Holy Spirit is not here to do His job what can believers expect to accomplish?

In the beginning of this amazing, wonderful movement called Christianity, God placed on man an awesome responsibility, and that was to spread the Gospel to all creatures. “And he said unto them, Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature.” Mark 16:15. That responsibility hasn’t changed in the last two thousand years. We must continue to, as Paul says, fight the good fight; we must remain active in our Father’s business, and be fully aware that the forces of evil will continue to buffet us at every turn.

Preaching the Gospel of Christ may seem difficult at times, even useless. The message of the cross, in many cases seems to be falling on deaf ears. Remember my brethren we are only seed planters and after planting we move on. We aren’t told in the scriptures to hang around watching that seed grow. We may not witness the fruit produced by that seed. But God promises it will produce fruit, some an hundredfold, some sixtyfold, some thirtyfold.

My brethren, another of Satan’s deceptions is to convince the Church to become complacent even apathetic. Along with all the other lies and deceptions infiltrating our churches today, one of the most far reaching is that the Holy Spirit has been removed. The Bible, the inerrant word of God, contains the very scriptures that Jesus quoted while here on earth, and they are non-negotiable. Nothing changes in God’s word. People change, yes, and become more “enlightened” in areas of worldly knowledge and through this kind of knowledge they are inclined to move away from any belief in God and His word. We don’t need to re-create or re-design the Gospel of Christ. It’s worked for almost two thousand years now and it will continue to be a beacon of light until Jesus returns. Nowhere in the scriptures are we told to avoid the lost and discontinue witnessing.

Jesus, being fully God, died on that cross, a most excruciating form of torture, and He did so to take away the sin of the entire world. He followed His Father’s instructions to the letter. Shouldn’t we, who are called by His name, continue following His commandments to the letter? At any rate it’s a command from God, not, as many would like to believe, a request.    

God bless you all,

Ron Graham

All scripture is from the KJV